How Obama's National Security Strategy Will Define American Power

Curbing terrorism, stemming extremism, accepting rivals

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President Obama today unveiled his National Security Strategy, which formally explains his administration's approach to issues of national security. The forward-looking document is 52 pages long and touches on everything from terrorism to cybersecurity to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the rise of potential military competitors. Here are the broad strokes, what it says about where Obama's leadership will take the U.S., and what's missing.

  • Looks Beyond Counterterrorism  The New York Times' David Sanger and Peter Baker read the report as "arguing that preserving American leadership in the world hinges on learning to accept and manage the rise of many competitors, and dismisses as far too narrow the Bush era doctrine that fighting terrorism should be the nation’s overarching objective ...  Obama describes an American strategy that recognizes limits on how much the United States can spend to shape the globe." Counterterrorism efforts, Obama writes, "are only one element of our strategic environment and cannot define America’s engagement with the world."
  • 'Pre-Empt' Terrorism  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder explains the "pre-emption strategy of sorts." He writes, "Incentivize Islamic countries to help deradicalize their vulnerable populations. Project a different image of America abroad, one that focuses on common interests and rule-of-law principles, not on large military footprints and the projection of military power, per se. Treat all existential threats as national security concerns, which requires the fortification of America's educational, economic, technological and legal infrastructures."
  • We're Still 'Pax Americana'  Military historian Patrick Porter sees "adjustment, not revolution" in the key underlying assumption: "While these moves taken together may go some way to alleviating America’s current difficulties, this marks not a fundamental shift from the Pax Americana, but an attempt to shore up and prolong America’s muscular liberal ‘primacy.’"
  • Staying on Top in a Decentralized World  The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman writes, "Every single focus outlined in the National Security Strategy is about the maintenance of American power on the international stage in an era when the international order is less tethered to the traditional power of big alliances of states than ever, thanks to global financial destabilization, super-empowered individual extremists or proliferating nuclear weapons."
  • Focus on 'Homegrown' Terrorists  The Washington Times' Eli Lake finds "a new focus on the threat posed by Americans who can be recruited and radicalized by al Qaeda through the Internet. ... The emphasis on homegrown radicals reflects the recent trend of attacks and attempted attacks in the United States by U.S. citizens or residents who were inspired to wage terrorism as a result of information posted on the Internet."
  • Does Not Explain Priorities   The Center for New American Security's Andrew Exum writes, "Considering the financial crisis from which our country is still emerging, I am surprised there is not more in the National Security Strategy about the environment of scarcity in which the United States now operates. Strategy is, in part, about setting goals, prioritizing those goals, and matching resources to each goal. ... There seems to be little acknowledgment that the United States might not be able to pursue all of our national security goals as vigorously as we might like in part due to spending constraints. ... I liked a lot of what it had to say but was left unsure of what the administration's true priorities are heading into the rest of its term in office."
  • On the Emergence of Rivals  The New York Times' David Sanger and Peter Baker describe, "While Mr. Bush’s 2002 document explicitly said the United States would never allow the rise of a rival superpower, Mr. Obama argues that America faces no real military competitor, but that global power is increasingly diffuse. 'To succeed, we must face the world as it is,' he says."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.